Once homeless, agency employee now leads drug treatment at Beaumont facility
By age 29, John Neely’s life was literally in the toilet because of alcohol and drug abuse. For more than four months the native of Newton, Massachusetts was homeless and sleeping on the floor of a public restroom at Boston’s Logan International Airport with just a roll of toilet paper tucked under his head.
|John Neely, program director at the LeBlanc Unit near Beaumont, once found himself homeless and sleeping in a public restroom because of his abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Photo by David Nunnelee
"I was penniless,” said Neely.” “I remember sitting on the stool, second stall on the right, when I first got there and I was crying, just feeling like such a loser.”
Neely has come far from the restroom he so vividly recalls between the United and Delta ticket counters. At 54, he is director of TDCJ’s pre-release substance abuse program at the LeBlanc Unit near Beaumont. He holds a master’s degree in education, was recently remarried on a beach in Hawaii, and moved into his first home with his bride.
“I’m amazed,” Neely said about his life after drugs and alcohol. “I’m amazed at what God has done with my life.”
Neeley doesn’t blame others for his spiral into substance abuse.
“I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict in recovery because of the loss of my dad at a young age or any abandonment, abuses, or neglect,” he said. “I’m the one who put alcohol in me and I’m the one who put mood altering chemicals in my body.”
As a high school sophomore, Neely transferred from a Catholic school to a public school where he started taking amphetamines and rebelling against authority.
“There weren’t any hard-fast disciplinary guidelines in the public school so I was like a greyhound out of the shoot,” he said.
Neely’s behavior got him booted from school on several occasions and he quit once to join a carnival where he said he “learned how to drink like a gentleman.”
At 19, Neely enlisted in the Army but went AWOL after seven months and was court-martialed. The Army reduced him in rank and shipped him to South Korea where he began using marijuana and LSD, drugs he described as “seasoning on the salad.” Upon his return to the U.S. after a 13-month tour of duty, Neely was inexplicably elected commander of a Franco-American War Veterans post, a position that allowed him to drink for free. His day job was managing a pizza shop, and later, a restaurant.
“I spent the money I earned at the nightclubs and drank for free where I could,” he said.
Neely’s first marriage at age 22 lasted six weeks due to his substance abuse. He then spent six years with “a good drinking buddy” before marrying her, a marriage that ended after eight months and landed Neely in the airport restroom with two paper bags containing his belongings, an alarm clock, and his guitar. He then swore off drinking for five years but continued to take pills.
“I was really just chewing my booze,” he said.
It took a traffic altercation with another driver in June 1981 to convince him that his life had spun out of control.
“I was about to hit him and I saw the shock on his wife’s face, and I saw what I was doing, and I knew I needed help,” Neely said.
Neely has been clean and in recovery since July 25, 1981. He moved from Massachusetts to the Beaumont area with his third wife in 1991 and three years later joined TDCJ as a substance abuse case manager with the Parole Division. He later became director of the substance abuse treatment program at the Beto Unit in Palestine and was then promoted to clinical director of the agency’s substance abuse program in Huntsville. Neely took a voluntary demotion in 2001 to return to Beaumont, where as program director at LeBlanc, he manages 65 counselors and the daily program activities of 1,008 offenders. He also teaches substance abuse counseling courses at Lamar University and is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I always felt that because of my connections with all the treatment facilities in the area that I could be part of the solution here,” he said.
Neely describes his recovery as “an on-going process” but believes his painful journey has been part of a grander plan to put him in a place where he can help others.
“It makes life worthwhile, seeing the light come on in other people’s eyes with some hope,” he said.
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